When major season on the golf calendar rolls around, golf commentators invariably weigh in on whether or not Tiger Woods will break Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 professional majors. Woods has set himself to this epic quest and it’s been fascinating to see him pursue it. When he’s playing well, the talking heads say that the success of his quest seems inevitable. When he’s off his game, it seems in doubt.
This week Woods will renew his quest to reach 19 majors at Muirfield. He currently has 14 titles to Jack’s 18 (Woods also has three amateur USGA titles to Nicklaus’s two).
Here’s why I don’t think he’ll ever reach Jack’s record, let alone break it.
A few years ago, Lee Trevino remarked that most multiple majors winners claimed their titles in clusters. That is, their titles all came within a few years when they were at the peak of their talents.
Considering the 11 golfers who won seven or more championships, Trevino’s comment is interesting. The bulk of their victories came within a relatively brief amount of time.
Jack won most of his majors within 13 years (1962-1975), winning only three after that—two in 1980 and one in 1986.
Gary Player won seven of his nine titles within 13 years (1961-1974).
Arnold Palmer won all his majors within six years (1958-1964).
Walter Hagen won nine of his ten titles within the space of ten years (1919-1929).
Ben Hogan’s nine championships were won within seven years (1946-1953).
Tom Watson won eight within eight years (1975-1983).
Ten of Bobby Jones’s 11 titles came within ten years (1919-1929).
Six of Gene Sarazen’s seven championships were won within eleven years (1922-1933).
For Sam Snead, six of his seven titles came within eight years (1946-1954).
Harry Vardon won five of seven within seven years (1986-1903).
Here’s why this is significant. It’s been over five years since Woods last won a major—the U.S. Open in 2008. And it’s been 16 years since his first—The Masters in 1997.
Of the ten golfers not named Tiger Woods who have won seven or more majors, only three of them have claimed a major more than 16 years after their first—Nicklaus (3), Player (1), and Vardon (1).
This is one reason why I think that even if Woods wins one or two more, it’s unlikely that he’ll win five.
A second factor is age. Woods is now 37 years old. Of these ten other golfers, only five won a major after the age of 37.
Snead won most of his majors in his mid to late thirties, winning three after turning 37.
Hogan is a very unusual case, winning his titles late in his career. He claimed six of his nine titles between the ages of 37 and 40.
The others who won after they were 37 are Nicklaus (3), Player (3), and Vardon (2).
Many more factors could be considered, but taking just these two together, I don’t think that Woods will catch and overtake Nicklaus, and I think that the period in which Woods will have won his major titles is largely over.